Callous Disregard

House Majority Leader wants to make Governor a "toothless pitbull"

One year ago today, I was in the midst of the most difficult day of my life. The morning of May 6, 2019, we had the nurses temporarily turn off my husband’s sedation so he could participate when doctors informed us there was nothing further they could do. The fever he had started running a couple of days after they had put him on a ventilator was MRSA, the antibiotic resistant staph infection. When asked if he wanted to keep fighting to live, he shook his head. When asked if he wanted us to let him go, he nodded slowly, once, twice, as the tears poured from his eyes, mine, and those of our kids.

The decision was clear, but removing and shutting down the various life-sustaining devices was a process which would take a full 24 hours.

We had to wait for that morning’s daily shot of blood thinner to wear off before they could remove the balloon pump helping support his weakened heart. That pump was fed in through an incision in the femoral artery in his groin. Once it was removed, it would be another 12 hours waiting for a clot to form there, so he wouldn’t bleed out when moved to a sitting position. He had to be in a sitting position so the ventilator they had put him on one week previously could be removed. And in the meantime, we asked that they change the programming of his internal pacemaker so that it did not trigger again, as it had eight times during his 10-day hospital stay.

We were all – his sister, me, our children and their spouses, one grandchild – able to spend time with him, saying our individual good-byes, but the overall waiting was anguishing. I believe his spirit, his soul, departed the body about 3:30 a.m. Finally, just before 8 a.m. they came in to remove the ventilator. Once that was done, we all encircled the bed, holding his hands and each other’s, watching through our curtains of tears, as his body struggled with fewer and more ragged breaths. After an agonizing seven-and-a-half-minutes, his body ceased to function.

No, it wasn’t COVID-19. Unlike those hospitalized with this virus, my husband was able to have the comfort of contact with his loved ones, hear them talk and feel their touch. Yet his struggle to breathe, both on and off a ventilator, was excruciating, and my heart breaks for each and every one of those struggling with this coronavirus.

And no, I didn’t expect anyone else to mark this day as I did, but in view of my heartbreaking memories, what I saw and heard coming out of the state Capitol could only be categorized as “callous disregard” for the value of life.

Meanwhile, at the Legislature today, one of the first things hitting my social media feed was this post from the executive director of the Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families, Susan East Nelson:

Rep. Rick Edmonds (R-Baton Rouge), who serves on House Appropriations, Education and Municipal Affairs, is the Vice President of the Louisiana Family Forum, and the Outreach Pastor for Bethany Church.

Callous disregard for the potential of spraying his neighbors with spit droplets and germs as his bubble pops.

Late in the morning, the Senate Insurance Committee heard four bills by Sen. Jay Luneau (D-Alexandria), designed to halt auto insurance rating practices practices proven to hike the premiums paid by certain sectors of the population.

The first of the measures to be heard, SB 14, would prohibit the use of credit scores in setting auto insurance rates. Sen. Luneau phrased the dilemma succinctly, asking, “The issue here is that if you’ve had a perfect driving record for 20 years, why should some credit problems you’ve had make you pay more for insurance?”

During Sen. Luneau’s presentation of this bill and of his subsequent measures, Sen. Kirk Talbot (R-River Ridge), the committee chair, was furiously texting with someone, and barely looked up from his phone.

Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon defended the practice, saying, “Credit worthiness has shown to be an accurate predictor of the likelihood of incurring a loss. If we ban the use of credit, then the insurance companies will pass along higher overall rates to all, as part of their cost of doing business in Louisiana.”

Rich Piazza, Chief Actuary for the Louisiana Department of Insurance, testified, “While this does not affect how much money insurance companies will pay because of their losses, not using credit ratings ends up subsidizing one part of the driving public at a cost to all the rest.”

The bill failed to pass.

“I don’t know why we treat the ladies of our state as second-class citizens when it comes to insurance rates, but SB 13 would prohibit using gender as a factor in setting vehicle insurance rates,” Luneau said of his next bill to be heard.

“Women live longer than men, so charging them more is actuarially sound,” Insurance Commissioner Donelon responded, before he launched into a rant.

“All of this was brought by the trial lawyers last year, as a red herring to distract from tort reform! It is discrimination on its face, and the only thing it will do is change who pays,” an agitated Donelon said before adding heatedly, “By the way, I got a letter last week from the Louisiana Bar Association, of which I am a member, supporting all of Sen. Luneau’s bills and opposing all the tort reform bills. I absolutely resent that and urge you, don’t take the bait!”

Sen. Luneau wasn’t going to totally turn the other cheek, so he gave a staunch but soft-spoken response, expressing his disappointment in the Insurance Commissioner’s attack.

“I have tried to stay away from personalities, but I am quite honestly tired of having a statewide elected official castigating me, trying to besmirch my reputation based simply on my profession,” Luneau said sadly.

“Look, this is common sense. We should not be discriminating against women!” he remonstrated with the committee members. “If we continue to let insurance companies do whatever they want, we’re never going to get our rates down. Regulation is the only way to do it. These guys make a lot of money. I’m not against profits, but this is a product we are mandated to buy.”

That bill failed.

SB 15 would prohibit raising someone’s auto insurance rates when their spouse dies.

“A lady I know had a spouse who was bedridden for six years, and suddenly her driving became a worse risk after his death? How does that make sense?” Luneau asked.

Donelon was still fired up, and ready to whine about how he has been treated over this issue.

“I got phone calls, and special interest groups paid for ads claiming I was discriminating against widows. That’s just a lie! I am treating single women – whether widowed, divorced, or never married – the same. They pay higher rates because they are driving more, because they are not sharing the driving duties with a partner.”

(It wasn’t that long ago that Donelon “mansplained” this issue and the gender rate thing to me, a widow.)

Luneau shook his head ruefully. “Do you hear what the ‘facts’ are – they’re driving more? What about he lady I told you about? For her and how many others that is certainly not true? It’s fiction. It’s smoke and mirrors. And it’s unconscionable to charge someone more because their spouse dies.”

That didn’t pass either, though Luneau’s SB 16, to prohibit premium penalties being assessed when a military member has been deployed, advanced without objection.

“I’m glad to know the Insurance Commissioner supports the bill this time. Apparently he likes military members better than he likes women and poor people.”

Small group of protesters outside the Capitol, urging passage of HCR 58. Photo courtesy: Paul Braun on Twitter

The most egregious display of callous disregard came through the afternoon and into the early evening hours, with the House and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing testimony for and against HCR 58, a resolution to strip the Governor of some of his emergency powers.

The measure, filed late last week and authored by the House majority leader, Rep. Blake Miguez (R-New Iberia), is being brought to try and force the Governor to fully reopen the state immediately.

“This removes the governor’s ability to extend the stay-at-home order, and removes his enforcement power,” Miguez explained. “We have to take a balanced approach to protect both lives and livelihoods. People back home are losing their livelihoods, while the governor is taking a one-size-fits-all approach, and we need to empower the parishes and municipalities to to as they see best.

“The Governor is a pitbull. This doesn’t turn him into a chihuahua, but it does take his teeth away,” Miguez continued. “This is a respectful request. I would be happy to throw this resolution in the waste bin with a phone call from the Governor saying we’re reopening the state now. Instead, we’re doing this from desperation. We need to start reopening today. We needed to start reopening yesterday.”

Rep. Dodie Horton (R-Haughton) was completely supportive of the measure, though she had a couple of questions for Miguez.

“I’m a healthy person, and I don’t wear a mask because I’m an American, and I can choose. I mean, have you ever known healthy people to be quarantined in the history of our country? Have you ever known our economy to be shut down? I mean, are we in Nazi Germany? Seriously, we should have opened May first!” Horton effused. “But what does this actually do? Will our hair salons and nail salons be able to open immediately if we pass this resolution? And can the Governor just ignore it?”

“I’d like to think and feel the Governor will follow the law. These powers were given to the Governor by the Legislature, and the Legislature can take them away,” Miguez said, then added with a smirk, “He doesn’t have veto power of this because it’s a resolution.”

Rep. Blake Miguez and Rep. Royce Duplessis (inset) spar in HGA on Wed. May 6

Vice chairman of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee, Rep. Royce Duplessis (D-New Orleans), had some questions for Rep. Miguez.

“Do you think the Governor enjoys making these tough decisions?”

“No, but that’s the cost of being in public service,” Miguez replied.

“You’ve said you want to save livelihoods, but you realize you have to save lives first, because you have to live in order to have a livelihood?” Duplessis asked , somewhat rhetorically. “Yet throughout your entire presentation, there been a lack of acknowledgment of the human cost. You said you’ve consulted with the Attorney General. Did you consult with the Department of Health?”

“No, because I’m not trying to set up a health plan,” Miguez answered, snippily.

“I don’t think anyone wants to open the economy faster than the Governor, and he’s been consulting with the experts, which you have not on this resolution.” Then turning to the committee chairman, Rep. Stephen Dwight (R-Lake Charles), Duplessis asked, “Can we get a fiscal note on this?”

“I don’t think that’s appropriate,” Miguez objected. Then when the chair ruled one would be requested, Miguez got angry. “You want to talk about a fiscal note? What about the fiscal impact on the business owners of this state? And experts have weighed in – the White House, the CDC.”

“Tell me how that goes with your assertion that locals, being closer, know best, to rely on the feds versus state authorites?” Duplessis asked. “Is it true or not true that a majority of the people believe the Governor is doing a good job with his response?”

“That depends on which poll you read,” Miguez said. “People in my district, people in our churches support this legislation.”

“Earlier you said this is a ‘respectful request.’ I think it’s more like a shot across the bow,” Duplessis remarked.

“I said I would toss it in the trash if he changed his mind,” Miguez said, gloatingly. “And there are more nuclear options on the table than this. I’m trying to be respectful.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ executive counsel Matthew Block spoke in opposition to the bill (as, ultimately, did Louisiana Health Secretary Dr. Courtney Phillips and Assistant Secretary for Public Health, Dr. Alex Billioux.)

Matthew Block, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ executive counsel.

“Obviously, the Governor does not support this resolution,” Block told committee members. “While Mr. Miguez and I don’t see the world the same way, I do appreciate the oppty to address this. Recovery from this is not something the Governor, the Legislature, the parishes can do on their own. Each has a critical role to play and this has to be done together. Without working together, we’re not going to have the recovery we need. If we just go back to how things were before, we’re soon back in the same boat as in March, with the highest per capita number of cases in the world.”

Rep. Tanner Magee (R-Houma), the House Speaker Pro Temp, quizzed Block, “You said Legislature has critical role in recovery. Don’t we have a critical role in the response?”

“Of course,” Block replied.

(Block forbore to point out that playing a role, even a critical one, is nowhere near the same thing as directing the play.)

“Didn’t the Governor say, I think it was in March, that we would run out of ventilators?” Magee asked.

“Yes, but fortunately that didn’t happen,” Block answered.

“I believe the Governor said, ‘It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.’ To my mind, that’s a promise, and it didn’t come true,” Magee came back. “My mother taught me, ‘to trust is good. To not trust is better’.”

“What you are creating with this resolution is a hodge-pode of responses to the biggest health disaster in more than one hundred years,” Block remonstrated with the committee members. “You are taking away the authority of the state, which is the funnel between federal and local governments for emergency management. That’s the way the federal laws and state laws are designed.”

“We mourn the loss of every life that COVID claims, but there’s the slippery slope of shutting down our constitutional rights,” Rep. Valarie Hodges (R-Denham Springs) declared. “Our constitutional rights supercede everything else that we are facing.”

There was a motion to delay a vote on the resolution until after the Governor makes his scheduled Monday announcement regarding plans for lifting the stay home orders, but it failed to pass. And with a 9-7 vote, the committee moved the resolution to the full House, where, with suspensions of the rules, it could be voted on as swiftly as Thursday evening.